Now there is no getting away from the fact that ‘The Trees’ is graced with an amazing, eye-catching cover and it would be foolish not to recognise the vital part that it played in capturing my attention. David Mann’s evocatively imagined fox, in the style of a Wodewose or Green Man carving, employing leaves and burnt, autumnal shades to conjure the danger that the Forest contains, does so with verve. Somehow the eyes glare at you, with just the right level of menace- almost commanding you to read it. Yet this is not a book that has relies merely on tricks: it is a book, which follows through on the promise it puts forward, visually. It is a novel of great reward, which takes you on such a strange and unnerving journey- deep into the heart of the forest and all that it represents-literally and metaphorically.
It is testament to Ali Shaw’s writing, that I am still mulling the story over a week later. Not only am I haunted by trees everywhere I go, in that the idea of their strange animate forms infuses their ordinariness (I beg any of you to look at ‘The Stick Man’ by Julia Donaldson in the same way, when it comes to story time) but I am also more focused on the myriad ways that we disrespect or disregard the superior power of nature. It is all too easy in our sanitised, modern lives to forget that we are vulnerable to and reliant upon nature to survive. Perhaps this is the point.
Much like in the forest we encounter in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummers Nights Dream’, natural order is reversed here. Events are infused with a pervading air of confusion; magic weaves it’s spell over our perceptions. Disbelief is suspended and like Shakespeare, Shaw thus enables us to consider ideas too threatening to our complicit everyday acceptance of the ways we live our lives- blindly working against nature, so that we may feel safe. By using fable and metaphor we may more easily tap into these ideas and ask deeper questions and provoke thoughts about how we live our lives: a change is necessary.
While the big questions are an integral part of the novels’ message, it is also amongst the flawed characters that drive its plot that I found the most relief. Our cowboy-loving couch-potato becomes the unexpected hero of the piece: Adrien Thomas. He is braver than I would be, when it comes to taking responsibility of the sinking-ship. It made me feel hollow *shudders*. I related to his initial helplessness. I applaud his ability to follow, watch and learn from others . I applaud his ability to reflect and adapt. I warm to him rediscovering his skills and being of comfort, by helping the children find comfort in learning (a really valuable and under-appreciated skill- both in the novel and life: teaching). I am in awe of his ultimate sacrifice.
So, if you are looking for an engaging read that takes you to strange and ethereal places whilst it’s perameters allow you to question the structures of your life, then look no further. If you aren’t, I urge you to read this novel anyway. It is a thing of terrible beauty and has a story within it that deserves, no must, be heard. I urge you to face the fears it rises. Whatever you do, bloody keep your logs outside. Don’t live near any trees. And invest in sleeping tablets or some methylated spirits. The thought of being skewered in your bed by mutant marauding branches is like something out of Poltergeist: there will be no rest again!!
Thanks Ali Shaw, you have done for trees what Hitchcock/ Du Maurier did for birds.